Volunteers who give their time to staff the Gwinnett County Veterans Memorial Museum are veterans themselves and have some experience doing battle. But the kind of battles they are fighting these days don’t involve guns.

Well, it technically does, but these guns are in display cases and behind glass rather than being carried around a battlefield.

The battle these veterans turned museum volunteers are fighting these days is all about one issue: awareness.

“The biggest story we get is, ‘Man, I’ve live in Lawrenceville 20, 30 years and I never knew this place was here,’ “ said Bob Ondish, who is a museum representative and also involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Lawrenceville. “It will be veterans too.”

More than 15 years after the Gwinnett Veterans Memorial Museum was established in the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse on the Lawrenceville Square, the volunteers who staff it are fighting a seemingly never-ending battle to raise awareness among Gwinnett residents that the museum exists. The museum isn’t always open — it can only welcome visitors when volunteers are available to staff it.

It’s website is also being overhauled and modernized, according to Ondish.

The museum is a place where the history of Gwinnett County’s involvement in wars, dating from the early years of the United States up to the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, are chronicled in the museum.

Museum volunteer Tom Martin said the veterans who volunteer at the museum are always trying to take advantage of opportunities to promote the museum.

“We’ll pass out brochures and things with the hours and al of that,” he said.

Just about every branch of the military — including the U.S. Coast Guard — is represented in the museum. There are old photographs, airplane models, old military uniforms, a copy of the State Memorial Book from World War I and original and replica guns, some of the Iraqi ‘Most Wanted’ Officials playing cards from the 2003 invasion of Iraq, among other items, on display at the museum.

Martin recalled an occasion where a photo of several Air Force personnel by a Blue Angels plane brought back memories for a visitor.

“We had a lady that came in one time from out of state, and she had retired from the Air Force,” Martin said. “She had worked for the Pentagon and I was joking, ‘Well, you may see something in here you recognize.’ Well, she came in here and she recognized that picture.

“I went and got her a chair so she could stand on it. It was the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds, and she started pointing out names. She said ‘That’s my group, that’s my group.’ I don’t know if she ever saw herself, but she saw several people she knew up there. That made her day. It made her trip to Georgia.”

The museum recently hosted about 45 Junior ROTC students from Jackson County and East Jackson High Schools. Some of the students were given a scavenger hunt list — if they wanted to participate in it — where they had to find bits of information around the museum and write it down.

Many of the students simply walked around, however, checking out the exhibits and talking to the veterans who volunteered to work at the museum.

Ondish said it was great to see that many young people visit the museum.

“They’ll spread awareness by word of mouth,” he said.

Jackson County High School JROTC Maj. Ryan Frisbee said he liked seeing some of the Civil War items on display in the museum, but he added that he found the items from all of the time periods to be fascinating.

“I liked seeing and just imagining being in their shows and use the technology of their time,” Frisbee said. “You can learn a lot (at the museum). The people who are guiding it have a lot of information.”

Jackson County High School ROTC instructor Col. Al Fracker said the visit with the students was his first time at the museum. Fracker said he’d only heard about it’s existence because he knew someone who volunteers at the museum.

“He told me about it, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce my cadets to it,” Fracker said.

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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